inscriptions

clothesline

Yesterday I noticed how there were little threads of cold water just under the warmer surface as I swam in the lake near my house. I’ve been swimming daily since the middle of May and I don’t want to let the lake go, my relationship to it, with it. The way it’s held me buoyant for months, even when I didn’t feel particularly light. The way I saw the families of mergansers and loons swim just a little way out, the young ones growing, growing, until now I only see a single bird. Where have the others gone? (Where am I going?) Some mornings I swam full of anguish over the state of our planet. This was true in August when the ground was parched (it still is) and the sky didn’t have a single cloud to soften the sun’s passage. There were mornings I cried as I swam because of the latest news from Ukraine. I didn’t give up hope but what does my hope mean when villages were demolished, citizens killed, the Russians filling their tanks with washing machines and furniture. I imagined my own home, my cousin’s home. She wrote to say that so far they were fine though the children saw a missile pass over the village.  She is a teacher and said that lessons are online because the school doesn’t have a bomb shelter. Think about that.

So now the threads of cool water, the sun lower in the southern sky, and I am turning my attentions to winter work. I brought my quilting basket into the kitchen so that once we have fires again, I can sit in the rocking chair to work on my current quilt. I pieced the top last spring, thinking of how I wanted to try to represent how it felt to frame a house 40 years ago, the kitchen in particular. How it felt to build the walls on what would be the floor and then raise them with the young strength we had then, our baby sleeping in the tent. I chose long strips of cotton and linen for the 2×4 studs and oatmeal coloured linen for the top and bottom plates. The back is several sections of dyed sheets. It could be the summer sky because we worked under it for months. Years.

the back

Winter work. I have this quilt and I have a novel in progress and the other day, looking at three portraits of myself hanging in our house, gifts to my children and myself decades ago from the painter who was kind of obsessed with me for a time when I was young, anyway, looking at them, I thought it was time to talk to that younger self. Maybe I’m a little inspired by David MacFarlane’s recent memoir, Likeness. I read it last week and thought it an astonishing book. His portrait, painted by John Hartman, is also a portrait of the city MacFarlane grew up in: Hamilton. My portraits are not that complex, or they are, but in a different way. As well as the portraits, we also have a folio of drawings, a gift from the painter to my husband. I’m not the subject of all the drawings but a couple are me, and they are slightly erotic. I didn’t pose for them, not exactly, but I did say the painter was obsessed and what he didn’t see (or at least not frequently), he imagined. I have a folder of letters written over many years and I have some other materials. It was a complicated relationship and troubling, in some ways, but in other ways I am hugely grateful to him for the attention he paid to a young woman, for the long discussions about art and life, and I think I am ready to write about it. (I did include a little of this in an essay in Mnemonic: A Book of Trees but there are areas I avoided. Maybe now I have the courage.)

words inscribed, as on a monument or in a book.
“the inscription on her headstone”

The other day when I brought my quilting basket out to the kitchen, I looked at the area I was working on within the taut confines of a hoop, and realized that it’s a kind of inscription.

the action of inscribing something.
“the inscription of memorable utterances on durable materials”
 

When I am sewing, I am inscribing a story onto (and into) the three layers of materials that make a quilt. And what is the story? The story of my daily swims in the body of water, back and forth under the green cedars, of nailing and lifting heavy walls, the story of paint on the surface of canvas, preserving a girl with flowers in her hair, reserved in a red robe (that I never owned, a pose I’d never hold, another imaginary Theresa), awkwardly feeding my first-born in a French restaurant in Vancouver in 1981. Is there a way I can stitch these together, to inscribe them both as surface texture and deep meaning in the winter of my 68th year, my 69th year? As the nights grow longer, as the lake cools, as Ukraine demonstrates extraordinary courage to a world that might have been skeptical (Russia, after all), I’ll be writing, in more ways than one.

inscription

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